Wednesday, April 22, 2009

From Afghanistan

Kristin Leclaire’s sophomores are finishing up their study of The Kite Runner. They’ve had a series of in-class fishbowl discussions about the book, but on their next-to-last one over Chapter 23 they had some additional input to consider.

If you take a look at that post, you’ll see the above picture sent to them from Afghanistan by Rob, an American who’s currently serving as Senior Military Adviser to the Afghan Army’s National Threat Warning Center in Kabul. Then if you scroll through the comments you’ll come to this one by Rob, where he gives them a little bit of his perspective, and then asks them a question about whether social class – in light of their study of Kite Runner – is still important. Many students respond to the question, and then Rob comes back one more time with some additional information.

Nothing earth shattering here, but this is what I’d like to see much more of in all of our classes. We should be reaching out to folks in different locations and with different perspectives, including “experts” but also just people with different life experiences. It’s so easy to do, whether it’s asynchronous like this example, or the use of something like Skype for synchronous conversation. I guess I’m wondering why it doesn’t happen more often.

What’s holding you back?


  1. Thanks again to Karl for helping these two paths cross. My English 10 class was excited to have this connection, and I was especially excited to have such a unique opportunity for this particular class--so often the really "cool" interactive projects are reserved for our honors students instead.

    My only regret is that I wish we had crossed paths earlier in the unit so that we could have done even more together. Rob has been fantastic; he has sent pictures, left blog comments, and written many emails. I'm hoping to keep this contact for next year, and as far as this year goes, Rob has agreed to leave feedback on the discussion tabs for my students' Kite Runner wikispaces. It makes this unit feel much more authentic and important to know that someone else is interested in our ideas--especially someone in Kabul.

  2. What's holding me back? The amount of social networking and 2.0 technology that is blocked at my school. Although I have done it, it definitely loses something for my student when I have to type or copy and paste their thoughts into my email account and then print answers at home and bring them into school.

  3. I am held back because I feel so disconnected. I don;t know where to find these people, well kind of...I get discouraged quickly, I should say. This year my students actually got to have a telephone conference with Jean Craighead George, after having read My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves. That was unbelievable. But at the same time, it was easy. JCG has her own website and has listed her email right on it, one quick message and there we were.

    The thing is, most of these things don't necessarily happen that easily. And when it doesn't, I get discouraged and just move on. In the end, it is truly my fault, as I have the resources available to me to make these connections for my students and proved for them a more foreign viewpoint. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  4. i believe there are many easy-access organizations to tap into. -the canadian division is doing a lot with recently acquired technology in africa. lucy buck with, look to her site for daily videos while she is in uganda. great learning to be had.
    skype is blocked in my school district (working on it.) oovoo isn't - but sound restrictions make it more difficult for whole class contact. videos others make usually show up on youtube. which is usually blocked.
    what i've found - if you have students on a separate wireless account - you can gain access to more things. i'm discovering that a lot of the blocks are for maintenance reasons (ie: if a kid does something - we don't want our whole system to go down) rather than for child safety issues.
    brian crosby in nevada uses skype to include one of his students in daily activities that otherwise couldn't. she's homebound with lukemia.

    thank you karl. i love the post. i love the encouragement.

  5. @Beth - Is everything blocked? In this case all we needed was a blog. Even many districts that block other 2.0 technologies allow at least one blogging platform (or will host one). If not, perhaps you could approach them with your concerns and ask if they can help you find one site they will unblock, or if they will host something internally. It's a pretty compelling instructional reason and I think it would be hard for them just to dismiss it out of hand.

  6. @Mr. Kimmi - It is easy to get discouraged, but so often all it takes is asking someone and they'll do it (or know someone who will). I think we need to be more "aggressive" in a sense at asking folks to give back.

    There are also many, many places to help you find others.

  7. @everyone - It's interesting. I ended the post with the question, "What's holding you back?" That can be interpreted two ways. Either the emphasis is on the "what" - as in, what is it specifically that's getting in the way; or it's on the "you" - as in, why aren't you taking advantage of this. I'm curious as to which way folks interpreted it.

  8. My district has moodle and says that's our blog because it's safe since no one from "the outside" can get in LOL (they have it set that way, I know you can do different preferences). They filter most blog sites but, more annoyingly, the few unblocked ones will get blocked at anytime they find them. After that happening in the middle of a few projects and not being able to convince them to unblock because there was an objectionable site somewhere on that blog sphere it became discouraging. And ED students really don't deal with that frustration well. sigh I do have a wiki that has stayed unblocked for a few years (maybe because they don't understand the concept of wiki's? LOL) so I have used that on several occaisions. Currently my friends dog blog is not blocked (although yours is). So in May I may give a mini project another go using that blogging tool. After all we have to publicize our Butterfly Transect somehow!

  9. @Beth - sorry to hear that - keep the faith and keep trying. Are you allowed to give "outsiders" a Moodle login? Seems like that might be something they'd go for - assuming you had pre-screened the outsider? That way they could join the course just for the project, then you could disable their account if necessary.

    You could also possibly use the discussion features on a wiki in similar manner.

  10. I was a part of the class that worked on the blog above. I find that there are schools that do have quite a bit of technology, but there are so many more that are being held back for different reasons. Blocking is one of the most frustrating obstacles that teachers and students come across. It's understandable that the schools wouldn't want students to be able to reach so much of the inapropraite sites. But it limits our research, and therefore limits our education and the teachers ability to teach.

  11. I am so excited and passionate about this technology that nothing is holding me back.

    It seems to me that there is a fine line between a wiki and a blog. I understand the major differences, however, I have set up a wiki for a debate class that I am teaching. I set up student pages that act like a blog.

    Then we invited several experts on debate to join our wiki. As the debate teams construct their arguments on their blog/wiki page, the comment sections are being used by the "resident" experts to give direct feedback to the students.

    There are 2 lawyers, 1 judge, and an associate professor of philosophy that contribute to the wiki. It has been a phenomenal experience. I am going to keep a professional journal on the rest of this class on my blog, for anyone interested in following along for the rest of the quarter.

  12. @hamileb - That sounds like a great way to bring in outside "experts," but still let your students drive their own learning.